Women We Read This Week

Abigail Rasminsky’s “I’m Pregnant. So Why Can’t I Tell You?” in Medium

When Abigail Rasminsky got pregnant she told only family and close friends. In this essay, she questions why exactly the first trimester is viewed by many as a secret. Considering one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage and the early stage is deemed the most risky, Rasminsky speculates that there is a protective quality to withholding this news. But who exactly is being protected?

Is this supposed to be for my sake? Are we trying to protect me from the embarrassment of admitting that I can’t go 45 minutes without eating and am gaining weight at a rapid clip? That I spend most of the day crying and moaning on the couch, Alicia Florrick my fictional companion? That I’m afraid of losing the pregnancy but can’t fathom that this debilitating state of being has anything to do with an actual baby? Are we really trying to save me from having to share the news if I have a miscarriage? Or are we trying to protect our culture from admitting that not all pregnancies are beautiful and easy and make it to term, and that the loss can be absolutely devastating?

Rasminsky weighs the pros and cons of keeping this weighty secret. If on the one hand a woman is protected from idiotic clichés fellow humans might offer after miscarrying – “you’ll have another one” or “you weren’t even that far along” – then on the other hand she might be missing out on much needed community support during these sometimes difficult months. Rasminsky gives a particularly relatable example of a friend who posts about first trimester puking on Facebook and gets dozens of replies offering sympathy and tips. Rasminsky finds herself caught between judging the woman for blasting out the news en masse and wishing she herself could so openly ask for help.

In the end, Rasminsky wonders if part of one’s impulse to cover up a pregnancy before her protruding belly proves a traitor to the cause is simply a matter of wishing for privacy. “Women’s choices,” she says, “so often tread a very thin line between the private and the public, and it is perhaps because these first few months can be private – unless you’re royalty – that we try, even at great sacrifice, to keep them this way.”

Rachel

Jen Percy’s “My Terrifying Night with Afghanistan’s Only Female Warlord” in The New Republic

Newly arrived in Afghanistan, Jen Percy found her way to a female warlord’s mountain stronghold and spent a strange, uncomfortable night there. The resulting story is tense and filled with bizarre and heartbreaking details. Here’s Percy:

Everybody in Kabul knew about Commander Pigeon, but no one agreed on a narrative. The Afghans accused her of robbery and murder. A few suspected she worked with Taliban commander Mullah Dad-e Khuda, who escaped from Bagram prison in 2008, and a local warlord called the Green Imam. Together they supposedly controlled all the drug-trafficking routes in the north. One person told me, “She has many houses in Kabul but prefers to live in the mountains among the animals.” She didn’t have any of the usual warlord stories. No acid throwing or biting off chicken heads, or leaving prisoners in vats to die. She was not like Commander Zardad who kept a human dog on a chain to maul and sometimes eat people. She was a woman and she killed men—while wearing a flowery dress.

Eva

Donna Tartt’s “Basketball Season” in Harper’s

“Basketball Season,” published in 1994, was the first thing I ever read by Donna Tartt. This was sometime last year when everyone was losing their minds about The Goldfinch and I’d never heard of her before. Soon enough Google led me to a website called Donna Tartt Shrine, which I have returned to too many times now for me to make fun of the name. It seems to be a mostly comprehensive collection of links to her non-book work; she has written so little, or rather published so infrequently, that it’s not hard to be a completist. Of the few pieces Tartt has published about her childhood, “Sleepytown: A Southern Gothic Childhood, with Codeine” is maybe better known (though she’s since insisted the piece, originally published as memoir, is fiction). But my heart belonged to “Basketball Season” within just a few lines, probably because the pall of failing math loomed larger in my own childhood than inadvertent cough syrup addiction.

The year I was a freshman cheerleader I was reading 1984. I was fourteen years old then and failing algebra and the fact that I was failing it worried me as I would worry now if the Mafia were after me, or if I had shot somebody and the police were coming to get me. But I did not have an awful lot of time to brood about this. It was basketball season then, and there was a game nearly every night. In Mississippi the schools are far apart, and sometimes we would have to drive two hundred miles to get to Panola Academy, Sharkey-Issaquena, funny how those old names come back to me; we’d leave sometimes before school was out, not get home till twelve or one in the morning. I was not an energetic teenager, and this was hard on me. Too much exposure to the high-decibel world of teen sports–shrieking buzzers, roaring stomping mob, thunderous feet of players charging up the court–kept me in a kind of perpetual stunned condition; the tin-roof echo of rural gymnasiums rang through all my silences, and frequently at night I woke in a panic because I thought a player was crashing through my bedroom window or a basketball was flying at me, about to knock my teeth out.

I recently came back to “Basketball Season” after finishing The Secret History, Tartt’s first novel, 500 pages of money-adjacent liberal arts students worshipping Dionysus and doing murders and navigating guilt and privilege in Vermont, a far cry in so many ways from 2,000 words on teenaged girls doing backflips and failing Algebra in Mississippi. But reading the two in succession illuminated the shared guts of each: Class and the trickiness of navigating its microaggressions; outsiders and the certain sorts of power they might wield; friendship and its proximity to deep loathing; literature and its ability to clarify, and to complicate.

Rachael

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